COVID-19 Patients Should Be Treated Onboard Hospital Ship Comfort, Cuomo Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rear Adm. John B. Mustin as the USNS Comfort pulls into New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, at a brief news conference as he stands beside Rear Adm. John B. Mustin as the USNS Comfort pulls into Pier 90 Monday, March 30, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The hospital ship USNS Comfort should take aboard coronavirus-positive patients,despite Pentagon concerns that its close quarters are unsuitable for treatment of an infectious disease, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

"We don't need the Comfort for non-COVID cases," he said at a news conference from Albany, the state capital.

Cuomo said he would be calling President Donald Trump later Monday to ask his approval for the change in policy on the use of 1,000-bed Comfort, which has thus far been limited to treating non-COVID patients after arriving in New York Harbor on March 30.

"I understand what the original plan was for the Comfort," Cuomo said, but added there has been little demand for the ship's facilities to treat non-COVID patients from local hospitals.

Related: Hospital Ship Comfort Arrives in New York to Help with Coronavirus Patient Surge

"I'm going to ask him [Trump] if he can make this adjustment for us," Cuomo said.

Before the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy were deployed -- the Mercy to Los Angeles and the Comfort to New York City -- Pentagon officials cautioned that they are designed to treat trauma patients and combat casualties, and are not a suitable environment for patients with infectious diseases.

"Our understanding is that the intent is that the ships will be used to take non-coronavirus patients, which is what our staff are best assigned and organized to do," Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Pentagon's Joint Staff surgeon, said at a March 18 news conference.

However, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told Fox News last Friday that the military is "reassessing" lifting restrictions on taking COVID-positive patients aboard the Comfort.

At a Pentagon news conference Friday, Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said that only "a couple of dozen" patients had been treated so far on the Comfort and fewer on the Mercy.

The plan for the Comfort was to treat non-COVID patients, Hoffman said, but the shelter-in-place order in New York means "we've seen the number of traumas decrease -- car accidents, any type of assault-type activities."

"The number of patients [expected to be treated on the Comfort] has gone down," he said.

Hoffman added that Defense Secretary Mark Esper is also looking at the possibility of using the Comfort for non-COVID patients.

"I will say we are very well aware of the risks in doing that," he said.

"It's not an environment built for handling infectious diseases in mass" in the cramped quarters below decks on the ship, Hoffman said.

At his news conference in Albany, Cuomo said that the 1,100 additional military doctors, nurses and medical personnel promised by the Defense Department had begun arriving in the city; 300 of them will be deployed to local public hospitals to ease the strain on overburdened staff.

He said the majority of the additional personnel would be assigned to the Javits Convention Center, which has been converted to a 2,500-bed hospital exclusively for COVID-positive patients.

Cuomo said all of the 1,100 additional medical personnel are expected to be in the city in the coming days, and he thanked the Defense Department profusely.

"God bless the U.S. military," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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